Manolo Quezon is #TheExplainer Newsletter — FVR Omnibus

This and the next two newsletters are part of catching up with the backlog of things that have come out. Thank you for your patience and staying part of this newsletter.

This issue focuses on coverage and my commentaries on the passing of Fidel V. Ramos. My column on his passing reminded me I’ve beet at writing for some time. The story I started with was a story I filed away as an unfinished piece; I think I’ve had that snippet lurking in various hard drives for maybe twenty years. Then, all of a sudden, I finally got to use it.

The Long View: FVR and his funeral

Once he’d been a statesman | Inquirer

By: Manuel L. Quezon III@inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 04:30 AM August 03, 2022

A columnist once told a story about former president Fidel V. Ramos and his father, the former assemblyman and diplomat, Narciso Ramos. The elder Ramos, the story went, would brush aside his son’s views, waving him aside as a mere soldier (and a member of the Constabulary, at that: the most corrupt and abusive service!) who knew little about serious affairs of state. Then martial law came, and the elder Ramos discovered that it was his views, now, that were considered irrelevant by the son, who had become a powerful figure in the dictatorship.

The story is probably exaggerated, but like many such tales, it likely contains a kernel of truth. The military, for all the opportunities and training it provided, was all too often at the beck and call, and subject to the whims, of civilian politicians. For outsiders turned insiders like Ferdinand Marcos and Juan Ponce Enrile, what made the prospects of a New Society seductive for the military wasn’t just power, prestige, and its accompanying perks, but the satisfaction of giving the Old Society its comeuppance.

In the end, Enrile and Ramos discovered that in Marcos’ New Republic, they could only rise so high; the absolute highest would, however, be reserved only for the Marcoses and, in Ramos’ case, he would never rise higher than Fabian Ver. Near the very end (of his regime, on Feb. 16, 1986) Marcos announced Ver’s retirement, only to swiftly announce it would be indefinitely postponed. Cory Aquino was reported to have asked, “When will he [Ramos] decide what he is for?”

In contrast to Enrile and his thwarted putsch, Ramos retained an aura of frustrated professionalism, which enough of his fellow soldiers found evocative to lead to their withdrawing support, even as Ferdinand Marcos publicly playacted tolerance while privately ordering a bloodbath at Edsa. In the words of the scholar, Anne Mackenzie, Ramos joined the revolt “for reasons of his own”: It was clear enough why Enrile engaged in open rebellion against Marcos: He’d been found out. Ramos, however, wasn’t implicated in the aborted RAM putsch; and precisely because he had no self-interested motive, it’s likely Ramos was more instrumental in Edsa, turning out the way it did. As Mackenzie put it, “the high regard in which he was held, even by pro-Marcos forces, and the solid power-base he enjoyed within the AFP and at the US embassy could well have guaranteed the survival of the mutiny beyond its first few hours.”

This, then, was what he was for, and for which he received absolution for his participation in the planning and enforcement of the dictatorship: the idea of an armed forces that was more than merely the private army of one family, and of the supremacy not of the military but of that startlingly vague but powerful notion of the (civilian) people. By the time he made this stand, his father had died; in the end, he would have seen his son had absorbed more than he’d expected.

It took an old soldier to be a peacemaker, conferring, in a sense, the absolution he’d received from the nation when they hailed him at Edsa, to the military’s blood enemies, the Communists and the Moro rebels, both of whom obtained under law the kind of amnesty he also extended to the military rebels whose messianism proved every bit as bloody and destructive as the Communists they’d tortured in detention and fought in the mountains. Indeed it was Ramos, the bemedaled Cold War Warrior, who gave up the republic’s strongest legal weapon against the Left: repealing the Anti-Subversion Act of 1957.

He was a consensus-builder, he was a manager, and by the measure he asked to be judged — as the bringer of economic stability and prosperity to bookend the restoration of democracy achieved by his predecessor — he was successful though not appreciated as much for it because of the Asian Financial Crisis. If the mark of a successful leader is that his policies, in turn, become adopted by other leaders who have no affinity for him, then Ramos was successful in an administration he was never close to nor helped: In many meetings with his Cabinet, Benigno S. Aquino III often referred to Ramos’ policies on business and the economy as worthy of emulation.

To this catalog of virtues and achievements must be added his three dubious legacies to the nation. The first of these was that Ramos destroyed the party system by bolting his party when he lost to Ramon Mitra Jr. in the LDP party convention. The outcome answered, in the negative, whether a ruling party could ever find the wherewithal to resolve leadership questions within its own ranks, leading to the perpetuation of a movement and not just personalities. Political parties ever after would be feast-and-famine temporary coalitions: a rag-tag assembly of early believers which, upon victory, would bloat to colossal size, only to deflate the moment talk of succession began. At the end of his term, Ramos would reap what he had sown.

A year or two earlier, he’d correctly identified the shortcomings of our Fifth Republic, but his proposals to address its flaws not only failed to convince, but invited a crippling collision with public opinion and the gatekeepers of our newly restored democracy (the media, the Catholic Church, and civil society), in a rally presided over by Cory Aquino and Cardinal Sin. His Charter change effort limped along until it was run over legally after the Supreme Court gutted people’s initiative as a viable alternative to Congress’ unviable, because procedurally impossible, inability to propose amendments. He would repeatedly return to his proposals which he’d revive after each political intervention calculated to maintain political relevance but which, ironically, ensured the dissipation of his influence: His decision to support Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in her moment of maximum danger in 2005, and his throwing his support behind Rodrigo Duterte in 2016.

Though he did as much, and perhaps more than any other leader, to erode and reverse the status of the country as a viable newly restored democracy, he’d accomplished enough as its president, to ironically draw out the process of dissolving the Fifth Republic, by building surprisingly strong foundations for it both, institutionally and in terms of a democratic attitude, surviving in enough pockets to put up a stubborn resistance to its demise.

‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’ | Inquirer

By: Manuel L. Quezon III@inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 04:30 AM August 10, 2022

The moment the sad news came of FVR’s passing, I sent word to a former colleague in the Department of National Defense to request the protocol office of the Palace and Camp Aguinaldo to please, please, buy a big enough flag. Too many state funerals have featured skimpy flags, which makes the proceedings look skimpy and undignified like someone placed a printed napkin on the coffin. The former colleague said not to worry; his own father, a retired officer, had recently passed, and he said he’d been furious over the tiny size of the government-issued flag. As I watched the video feed of President Ramos’ funeral, I was relieved to see that when his urn was placed, for ceremonial purposes, inside a temporary coffin, it was draped, in turn, by an appropriately-sized flag.

There is, perhaps, a very small fraternity, indeed, about people who either notice or care about such things. The armed forces, for all their institutional orientation about things (they manualize everything, which is as it should be in any bureaucracy) don’t specify the size of the flag to be used on a coffin, just as it does not specify the width of black mourning armbands. Regulations can only go so far, and official ceremonies rely as much on a “feel” for things as it does on doing things “by the book,” assuming there is a book, and assuming further, that people know the book exists — and are willing to follow the book.

Back to the flag, since death can’t be scheduled, funerals, even official ones, are often put together in a hurry, not least because to have thought too much about them beforehand is somehow still taboo (things like official funerals in other countries aren’t left to chance: they are meticulously planned long ahead of time and the plans reviewed and revised as time passes). The question of the size of the flag isn’t one that naturally occurs to anyone, not least bureaucracies that procure things by the book: if regulations say a flag goes on the coffin, then it must be the standard flag: except what do you do if the standard flag is obviously too small? Put another way, I once had to quickly put together a photo presentation with pictures of previous state funerals to emphatically show the flag has to be large enough to drape over the ends and the sides of the coffin, and not cover only its very top like a colorful napkin.

In other countries, such as the United States (whose regulations provide the basis for most of ours), things like the width of armbands are specified (2-inch wide), and I further suspect there are standard sizes of flags, and thus the size applicable for shrouding a coffin would be common sense (my deduction, based on what we did for Jesse Robredo’s state funeral: a 10-foot flag for a tall person, or an 8-foot flag for an average height person, is ideal). The then-commander of the PSG for his part specified a quarter-inch-wide black elastic band to keep the flag in place as the coffin was transported from place to place, attached horizontally parallel to the lid of the coffin. In the case of President Ramos, I noticed the solution this time was three narrow black bands, attached vertically, one assumes, to try to duplicate the leather straps used on traditional caissons.

Speaking of caissons, the armed forces have one of their own, which isn’t an actual caisson (an artillery carriage) but rather an approximation of one. This is a pity because a proper, historic one exists. The problem is it’s owned by Funeraria Nacional which used to have a kind of monopoly on state funerals because of the personal expertise of the late Antonio Quiogue. In recent years, the funeraria of choice has become Heritage, but it lacks the institutional memory necessary for national ceremonies (civilian staff have no business fussing about in plain sight, and worse, correcting the soldiers as happened in Ramos’ funeral; train the soldiers properly and get the civilian underlings out of the way!). The caisson of Nacional was acquired abroad and was used in the state funeral of Quezon (1946 and 1978), Roxas (1948), Quirino (1956), Magsaysay (1957), Osmeña (1961), Aguinaldo (1964), Garcia (1971), and, possibly, Macapagal (1997), as well as intervening state funerals for other officials. The Republic should simply acquire it, and it can be displayed in the presidential car museum when not in use.

The father, so to speak, of protocol in the Philippines was the late Ambassador Manuel Zamora, who was chief of presidential protocol from the Quezon to the Marcos administrations. He put together manuals that, over time, have become so hard to find not even the presidential palace has a definitive set, much less the means or the basis for modernizing it. In the Jesse Robredo Memorial Book which you can find on, we included documents (pp. 98–116) from his state funeral as a kind of how-to-do-it guide for such things, from the planning to the coordination, to the charts and diagrams, and the communications by bulletin and statement, because much as the armed forces take center stage, muddled — and muddling — civilians should have a guide and basis for understanding the procedures and terms used.

I would even go so far as to devote some attention, in some future definitive guide, as to music. Anyone who has attended one or more official, including state, funerals in our country will know that old hymn, “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” played to such great effect by even the worst-tuned of bands. Aficionados of the “Titanic” story will know that it’s been used for the poignant scene of the ship’s orchestra playing as the liner sank (though there is a debate on whether it was really that song). In our case, it’s far more interesting, because far more likely, that it’s being part of the official repertoire dates to the American period and one state funeral in particular: William McKinley’s, in 1901.

Coverage on the passing of FVR and his funeral

Karen Davila invited me to guest on her show to talk about FVR. Here is our discussion.

An excerpt from the State Funeral coverage of ANC and the portion where Karmina Constantino and I discussed First Lady Ming Ramos.

I was privileged to be invited to provide commentary during the State Funeral for President Ramos. Here’s ANC’s coverage in which I took part.

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Manuel L. Quezon III

Columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer. Editor-at-large Views strictly mine. I have a newsletter, blog, podcast, and Patreon.